After leaving the Waterhole, Elle’s legs led her without any intervention from her mind. The sun was a distant star, bright and hot on her shoulders as she slipped behind the building and into the alcove where Stingray’s memorial sat, time faded and lacklustre. A water tank with two mouldy pipes in front of it, half of it cut off by a staff only door. But, it persists. After all this time, memory persists. Like a splinter in your foot, or a grain of sand caught in the hem of your swimwear. Memory is fragile, it slips through your fingers and dissolves into thin air. It crumbles into little pieces you scrape from the floor into your mouth, to keep them safe.
Time has inevitably bleached the Cameron who lived in her memory of his blemishes. It had shone the good slivers of Robert like wedding silverware until they shone so brightly that she could pretend that this wasn’t inevitable. Memory protects you from itself, folding in on the bad pieces so you can only see the good. It happened to Dad, it happened to Mum and it’s happening to her as well. The tail of the ‘y’, the part that’s been cut off by the staff door and redrawn in crude black paint - that’s what memory is, a crude substitute for the beauty and horror of being alive.
It was through this mural that she had provided Riley with a tip and he’d gone on to call her his muse. He’d told her, many years later, at a dive bar somewhere in Arkansas, where the air was thick with smoke, pool cue in one hand, that it was that moment he first realized how easy it would be to fall in love with her. Elle, who has never considered herself a very lovable person, thought he was full of it...And cheap beer. She lay the back of her hand against the textured wall and thought about Scott for the first time in a very long time. It’s not as if she was particularly close with Scott Timmins, like most of his clan (Dylan included) he had a bad habit of getting on her nerves. But he had taken her in when Dad booted her out. In fact, the whole family had taken her in as one of their own, and for the first time perhaps ever, she’d been part of a cohesive family unit where no one wanted anyone else dead. She was deeply envious of their tight-knit family group, her own family was, and would always be, fractured and fragmented. Sunlight filtered through curved glass.
But it had seemed so simple to them. They were Timmins, they stuck together. Janae had told her that, and it was important to them. When Stingray’s mural was in danger, Janae saved it, because she was his brother and she loved him. The people gathered to observe, Steph in her leathers. Adam in his police uniform and Riley with his camera. Janae, her wet eyes and hanging earrings, both arms places palm down on the wall, defending it bodily from harm. Did she feel it too? That desperate, half-finished desire to defend her brother from the body that had failed him? It was one of the relatively few times she felt a sense of connection with the other woman.
There was no memorial for Cam in Erinsborough. No graffiti mural, no laminated photo stuck to a lamp pole with rotting stuffed toys, or a cross in the ground. It’s almost as if he were never here, and she’s sometimes wondered if that would have been better. To have him safely in Tasmania with Mum, drawing his drawings and alive. Or to have never known him at all. To not be a triplet. To just be Elle. Was the nineteen years she had spent with him worth the lifetime of pain his death had caused?
The answer, of course, was yes.
Even if she was the only person left who bothered to care, so long as there was a shred of joy to be found in her memories of him. So long as she never forgot the sound of his laugh. So long as she could remember what it felt like to share such closeness with another person. So long as she remembered his life and not his death, then it was worth it. He’d been ripped from her hands by some fatal cosmic mistake but it wasn’t a mistake to have cared. It was no error to have loved, to have had the time she had to feel his hands in hers, and see the mischievous light in his eyes. While the ghost of his life still lingers on the edges of her vision, wanting her to be better than it was worth it. She sighed again at the mural and then turned away from the last trace of the Timmins Erinsborough had to offer - At least now with an idea of where to hideout.
It’s damn hard to find a place to hide out not related to Dad in some way or other. His fingers were in most pies, as Mum would say. So, she went somewhere else entirely. The beach, by cab off the rank from The Waterhole. Let it be known that Lucinda Anne Robinson is not a beach person by any stretch of the imagination. She hates the ocean, the taste of it and the gritty feel it leaves on your skin. Riley, conversely, adored it. He loved the feeling of water coming in between his feet, and the smell of it lingering in his nose. He loved to surf, to be one with the sea, to feel like you could possibly tame it. You can’t, and Riley has the chunks taken out of the back of his legs by other peoples boards to prove it. Elle has never been in the ocean past her ankles since ‘05. Since the plane went down over the Bass Strait. Since her brother committed, by all accounts, domestic terrorism.
People tend to think it’s funny when they find out Dad used to be a flight attendant. Can you imagine brusque, hard-nosed Paul Robinson bringing you a gin and a blanket? Elle doesn’t think it’s funny - Serena Bishop died because she inflated her life jacket while still inside the cabin, and when she escaped without it, she couldn’t stay afloat and drowned. That’s what Connor O’Neil said when he and Dylan crawled back to the land of the living. The only reason Elle didn’t inflate her life jacket inside the plane was because Dad knew not to, and he’d wrapped his wide palmed hand around hers and held it close to his chest for a moment, trying to talk over the ruckus but he just couldn’t. Water came in around their ankles, while Dad led her to safety with his grip practically, desperately bruising against her bird boned wrists. What Riley saw as absolution, she saw as abject terror. The swirling black water, Dad’s warm hand being pulled from hers by a wave, crying out for him as he was swept from her view, the pop of her shoulder being pulled from its socket as she tried hard to hold onto him, being saved by Izzy Hoyland, the hard metal of the debris they sat on waiting for rescue for a long, cold, twelve hours.
When they were kids, Dad came over for a visit one year and he took the three of them to the beach. RobRob sat alone under an umbrella with his book and his frown while she and Cam, being only about five or so swam out into the water. He stood and watched, issuing them with instructions. No further than your knees, you two! Cam disregarded them almost instantly and swam out to where his feet couldn’t touch. Elle followed after him, neither understanding the true danger of the water and never having to because Dad was upon them in moments, sweeping them up in his big arms, sitting each child upon a hip. At first, she thought he’d get mad, like their stepfather, or Ian but he wasn’t. He was laughing, a giant amongst the clouds to his small children, the world held between his knees. He said something that time has washed from Elle’s memory and walked out even further until he was up to his chest.
“It’s dangerous out here.” He calmly remarked. “See those swirls? That’s a riptide. If you got caught in that then you’d be carried away to New Zealand.”
“But you’d follow us, right Dad?” She asked her hero, in that solemn way small children sometimes do. He nodded very seriously, and then said -
“Of course I would. That’s what Dad’s are for.”
“Elle!” She’s pulled from her memory by a voice calling her. She looked up to see Dad struggling across the sand towards her. In the dying sun, his green eyes are practically catching alight. Cam had eyes like that. They were brown, like Rob’s, but in the sun they looked more like his pupils were suspended in amber. “Thank goodness.” He says and then sits next to her on the sand, stretching out his legs in front of him. His breathing is slightly heavy, it’s probably hard for him to balance on the sand.
“How did you know I was here?” She asked as he crossed his good ankle over the plastic one.
“You’re not the first daughter I’ve had run out on me.” He replied, knowingly.
“I tracked your phone with the Track My i-Phone password you gave me.”
“That is meant to be for emergency use only.” She grumbled, without any serious malice.
“I consider my daughter picking an out of character fight with my granddaughter about her brother to be an emergency.” He retorted, the ocean waves fighting with his voice to be the dominant sound in her ears.
“Did you see my brother?” She asked, removing her eyes from his face and placing them instead on the ocean.
“I did.” It settles between them, heavy as lead.
“How was he?”
“He asked about you.”
“I ‘spose Harlow spilled her guts about how awful I am.” She sighed, digging one foot into the warm sand.
“She feels bad for upsetting you. She wanted to know what she could do about it. He said there’s nothing that can be done about it, and she’ll have to wait it out.”
“Do you see him often?” She asked, instead of commenting on Rob’s comment. If it’s good or bad...She can’t say.
“No, not really.” She flopped backward onto the sand, placing both arms behind her head and looking out over the water as the sun turned the sky from blue to citrine and pink. It’s a beautiful sunset. “Are you going to tell me why you had a go at Harlow over an innocuous comment?”
“What’s to say?”
“You can start with an explanation.”
“It’s been so long since I heard his name anywhere outside my own head. And it was about Rob. It made me angry.”
“I’m sorry, I accused you of not loving him. I know you do, it’s just -”
“I don’t show it.”
“You shouldn’t have to show it.”
“Yes, I should. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about him, because you can.”
“And say what? Hey Dad, remember your son who died? Well I like totally miss him. Sucks you had a brain tumour and don’t remember him anymore.” She can hear the eye-roll in his voice as he replied -
“If that’s what you want to say.” Truth is, Elle has spent so long not talking about Cam and pushing her feelings aside that now she has the chance to speak about him she doesn’t even know what she would say. When Dad was sick, he didn’t like being reminded of what he forgot so Elle didn’t remind him. Then the new family came along, and they didn’t know Cam at all so there was no point bringing him up, she didn’t want pity.
“I hate the beach.” She says, instead.
“Then why come?”
“Riley likes the beach.”
“Ah,” Dad says and doesn’t elaborate any further. Elle props herself up on her elbows so she can watch the waves roll in. They lapped at the sand, inching closer and closer, encroaching on them. When she’d been a little kid, Dad was like a superhero or a mythical thing. He’d seemed utterly invincible, and unaffected. Time is encroaching on them, just like the beach. “I brought you something.” Dad reached into his breast pocket and held a rather vintage looking flip phone out to her. She accepted it as she sat and stared at it, puzzled. The phone was chunky and white, with a small grey rubber antenna. From the top hung a red lanyard.
“Cam’s phone.” She identified, “The first one you brought, and he promptly lost. ”
“And I promptly replaced,” Dad added, sounding a little brighter.
“I think the two of us cleaned you out more in a couple of weeks than your other kids ever have.”
“I didn’t mind. It’s why I amassed my fortune, you know. To pass on to you kids.”
“No, you ‘amassed your fortune’ because you don’t like losing.”
“That too. Go on, open it.”
Curious now as to what Cameron’s phone could possibly hold that would convince Dad to give it to her, Elle flipped the lid. The screen lit up, showing the little pixel icons. A little globe for the web browser, a little envelope for messages, a little cog for settings…
“How did we ever use these tiny little screens?” She asked, pulling it up close for better vision.
“Go into movies, there’s something there I think you’ll enjoy.” She did as he asked, and inside was a file labelled ‘MOV_001_06’. The thumbnail was a blurry image about the size of her pinkie fingernail, the colours earthy green and yellow. She can’t make out what it is. Without ceremony, she clicked it with the select button. He huddled in nice and close so he could get a look. He smells like the inside of an air-conditioned car.
For a second, the screen went dark, and then illuminated, showing an image of Cameron standing in front of a floor-length mirror. His brow is furrowed tightly, his fringe falling across his forehead. He’s wearing a green army jacket over a blue shirt printed with an image of a skull and jeans. He looks exactly like Elle remembers him, tall and lanky in that way teenage boys often are before they finish growing into men. In the little movie, his face lights up into a grin, and he breaks eye contact with the phone to make eye contact with himself in the mirror, then he gives a little wave. He turns, and walks in the other direction, the view bouncing in time with his step.
“Hey, Porky! Dad! I got the camera working!” He exclaims, and Elle watches herself and Dad come on screen, both seated at the kitchen table. In front of them, is Dad’s coffee press, and two cereal bowls filled with the sugary delight of Frootloops. Elle is wearing a pink face mask, an oversized pink dressing gown over a faux silk nightie and Dad has his leg - no prosthetic - resting on a chair, while dressed in his blue robe and plaid blue pyjamas.
“Cam! My hair isn’t done!” She shouts back.
“I don’t have my leg on!” Dad cries out, leaning forward to cover up the pink, round end of his leg with his hands, almost knocking over his crutches in the process. Cam just laughs at them and turns away out of the room. His laugh is like putting on an old, comfortable jersey, or when she went along to the football with Lucas and he draped his leather jacket over her. Or when she and Riley got caught out in an airport and she’d fallen asleep on the floor, next to a charger with her head on his shoulder and she was so stupidly in love even the stale smell of his clothes after a red-eye flight was comforting.
“Sometimes, they’re so alike it scares me.” He whispers into the mic before stopping the video, a blurry shot of the ugly dog statues taking most of the screen. Then it fades back to black.
It’s no prophetic video of him telling her how much he adored her. It’s nothing particularly special, either. Just a short video of a teenage boy, messing with a gift from his father and annoying his sibling in the process. It’s only meaningful because it captures Cam as he was, exactly how he was. His voice, even through the tinny speakers of an ancient phone is so much younger than she remembers, the pitch higher. But he’s as handsome as ever, his cheekbones sky high and his smile slightly lopsided.
She began to play it again, this time pausing it on the moment he makes eye contact with himself through the mirror. Using her thumbnail, she traced his jaw.
“I know…” She murmured, “That making him into a saint in the rearview mirror doesn’t help anyone - least of all him...But he was perfect, wasn’t he Dad?”
“If he wasn’t, then he was pretty close to it.” Tears welled up in her eyes, despite her best efforts to stop them.
“I wish he could know us, who we are now. That we’re better now. That you are better now.”
“He probably does.”
“Why does anything else bear thinking about?”
“I guess so.” She stretched her legs out, “This is going to sound stupid but do you ever wonder if he might still be out there somehow?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dylan and Connor came back from the dead. Harold Bishop, and Toadie’s wife did too. Why not Cam? Why shouldn’t we get a miracle?”
“Because Robinson’s aren’t built for miracles. They’re built to endure, and to keep enduring.”
“I’m sick of enduring. I’ve spent my whole life enduring. I endured my childhood, with Robert menacing us at every possible opportunity, and I’ve endured a plane crash and car bomb. I’ve endured Cam’s death for the last fifteen years, and I endured Kate’s death. I endured your brain tumour, and the roof coming down on me and getting kidnapped, and losing Lucas, and my mother making regular visits to the man who tried to kill me but never to me when I needed her...Haven’t I endured enough? Aren’t I entitled to a bit of happiness now?”
“I’ve always been tragedy prone.” Dad says, his breath is warm on the top of her head, “The people I love get hurt because they know me. Starting with my Gran, and never really stopping. I didn’t know I was going to pass that on to my kids. I know that I don’t deserve absolution, I know who and what I am. But you’re too young for this much grief. I wish that I could take all your pain and hold it for you.”
“But what would I do with my hands? Put them on Robert’s throat?”
“I wouldn’t stop you, but Harlow’d never forgive you.”
“Is this the rest of my life? Is everything destined to be about the person who hurt me most?”
“Unfortunately, I think it might be.” Dad sighed, as Elle dug her toes into the sand. Inside her chest, there grows an enormous pressure.
“He took everything from me. It wasn’t enough, to ruin my faith in myself, and it wasn’t enough to make my father crazy, and ruin any chance of reconciliation between my parents. Wasn’t enough he ruined my mother. Wasn’t enough he drove Izzy and Dylan away. He had to take my Cameron too. And I’m so sick of it!” Her brain swam in a riptide of dangerous thoughts, pulling her down, down, down.
“Elle - “
“I’m sick to death of him having this power over me! He shouldn’t! I cut him out like a tumour but he won’t stop growing back in. He won, can’t he see that? He won! He won the war, my weapons are down, my dead are buried but he just won’t leave! Me! Alone!” She cried out, mostly into Dad’s arm as she buried her face in it.
“Oh, Darling….” Dad says, one of his hands coming to her hair but Elle pushes him away and stumbles to her bare feet. Breath comes in short, sharp gasps. The sand makes her unsteady, uneven. The sky is full of stars, this far away from the city, they seem very bright, but not as bright as the ones that she and Cam used to see over the farmhouse they grew up in, the very same stars Rob used to point his telescope at, in their peacetime, tell them the constellations of. The ocean is so big, and so blue and so full of water - it looks like pure night.
“I can’t even go to the beach without thinking about what he did to us!” She shouted, at the top of her lungs, maybe loud enough to startle some seagulls and to echo around the mostly empty this time of night beach. It rattles around the rock pools and through her lungs filled with lead. She turns her eyes out the water, the same water Riley had sought absolution for Briget’s death in, halfway across the world, on his board or just in his own set of white, bare feet. The crashing waves that beckon him turn her away because she is so scared, and angry about what Robert did. The three lives Robert took. The long hours she didn’t know if Dad was alive or dead, or if she would live or die. The stink of spilled petrol on the water, Izzy’s torn up voice begging for help. She didn’t want those memories anymore. She wanted to be wiped clean.
She wanted absolution.
“I’m not giving him anything else.” She announced, to her panic-stricken father. Then, she turned her back and started to run toward the swirling, black night sea. The hot burn of fury, pure fury stung the inside of her veins. Her head pounded with a glorious, heady mixture of rage and passion. The unpalatable feelings of love and hatred that bled into one another inside her for Robert bubbled and boiled and spilled over out of her in loud angry screams as she surged forward as fast as her legs could carry her. As she ran, she fumbled with each of her earrings, tossing them aside. Pearls, gifts from Oliver a long time ago. She didn’t want that love either. Then, her blouse was thrown aside, brought in New York with Donna during her high fashion phase. Let her have the best of Elle’s best years because she no longer wanted them. She didn’t want to be on the beach. She wanted to be in the water. She tossed aside the ring she was wearing, won for her on Coney Island by Chris Pappas, the man who had created Annie with Aunty Lucy and who had become a close friend and family member. Coney Island was her favourite place in the world, surrounded by the noise, and the people and the pier. She was never going back there, so she didn’t want it anymore. She fought with the clasp on her silver bracelet. If she snapped it, or if it opened she didn’t know but it went into the water by her ankles. She turned halfway enough to see Dad chasing her down the beach, limp more pronounced than it had ever been.
She ran into the surf, it climbed up her legs, clinging to the fibres of her pants. Then it was at her knees, pounding her in rolling, foamy water. She kept running, running, running until her feet ran out of ground.
“Elle!” He shouted behind her, but Elle simply raised her arms and embraced the wave that crashed totally into her. The water was thick and smothering and it stung the inside of her nose. It battered her around, unsure what was up and what was down. Sand slipped through her fingers, she couldn’t see in the water. Her lungs burned now from both the missing air and the pressure inside her skull that sought release. How deep was she? Did she care? Her eyes stung, if she was crying then no one could tell. It’s a blessed relief, it’s agony, it’s terror. She is in the ocean, she is screaming and crying after being dumped by a wave, she has no life jacket to keep her afloat this time. Only the kicking of her legs as she fights against the current.
Dad’s chest is right up close to her face as he wrapped his hysterical child in his arms, armpit deep in the ocean. The noise she makes barely classes as human, it’s guttural, a valve releasing pressure. He doesn’t try and soothe her, and nothing he could say would soothe her anyway. She clutches onto him as tightly as she could, taking fistfuls of his shirt and shoulder into her hands. One of his wide palms rests on the side of her head, in her wet hair. She’s got all these messy, terrible things inside her head, chewing on her brain and no other place for them to escape other than out. Including the one thing that has been inside her, sitting like lead, leaching into her bloodstream for the last fifteen years.
“I let him in!” She screamed, louder than before, louder than the rushing water around them, louder than the startled birds and louder than Dad’s laboured breaths as he struggled to keep them both upright. “I let him in.” She repeated, “I’m sorry, Dad. I’m sorry -”
“What? Let who in?” He asks, before bracing himself as the water crashes against him. He used his back as best he could to protect her from the onslaught.
“Robert! You knew, when he showed up you called him Rob. You knew! I convinced you he was Cam. I came up with the godforsaken joy flight, and I believed him when he said Izzy was coming on to him. I turned on Cam, and I encouraged you to go on that camping trip. It’s all my fault, I let him into our home. I let him ruin everything. I played into his hands at every single opportunity. Oh, God! Dad, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She wept, totally exhausted of all her energy now she’d confessed her sins at the church of Paul Robinson. Dad was silent, for several hours, which is actually only a minute or so.
“Let’s go back to the beach.” He said, quietly, releasing Elle from his arms. Elle stood, and then let him move one arm, and layer it over her shoulders so he could lean on her. They had to walk slowly, Dad’s limp making it a laborious task.
It took them a while to make their way back to their things. Dad’s suit jacket with the contents of his pockets strewn atop it, along with Cam’s phone. Elle’s phone, and her notebook she’d been carrying and left on the sand. Good thing it hadn’t been ruined, there are notes from Riley in there. Dad lowered himself down on the sand and then removed his prosthetic with practised hands. He emptied it of water and then lay it sideways on his suit jacket. Elle gets a look at his leg underneath, it looks the same if a little wet. Round, pink, with a thin white-ish scar encircling it. She remained standing at his feet, saturated and cold.
“Sorry.” She says, finally.
“Come here,” Dad murmurs, opening his arms to her. Elle sat by his side, leaning in to place her ear on his chest. Enveloped in his arms, she felt the same kind of safe she’d felt there as a little girl on his hip, watching the riptide. It’s fake, of course. But it’s a little peace just the same. “I love you.” He said as if he knew that was the only thing she wanted to hear right now.
“I’m sorry.” She repeated,
“You have nothing to be sorry about. Nothing at all.”
“I didn’t know it wasn’t Cam. I didn’t know.”
“I know.” He soothed, laying his cheek on the top of her head. His breath is a warm breeze atop her wet hair.
“And I didn’t know he was going to hurt you. I didn’t know he was going to hurt anyone.”
“I know that too.”
“I played into his hands. Over and over again. I played into his hands, I let him in. It was me. I can’t believe I was so stupid, that I didn’t see the pattern...That I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Cam. He didn’t even do a good job stealing his identity.” It kills her to this day, to have been so blind, so stupid.
“The only thing you did was believe your brother. No one has ever blamed you for what Rob did, not for a minute. He’s a very sick man, Elle. If you hadn’t played along he’d have had no qualms about disposing of you.”
“Everyone kept saying that it would get easier. That time’d heal my wounds. But it hasn’t. It still hurts like I’ve had my top layer of skin ripped off every time someone brings them up.” He sighed deep in his chest. It rumbles like thunder.
“I know what people say, I’ve been hearing it since I was eight and I found out that Mum wasn’t going to be coming home with the new baby I’m sixty now. And you’d think that would be enough time to get over it but it’s not. When you love someone, really love them...It never goes away.”
“I know Rob thinks we didn’t love him, but we did. Of course, we did, he was our triplet. I know that we weren’t perfect siblings, and he treated us like dirt, but we loved him. Maybe...If I’d done more to let him know that things would be different now.”
“You weren’t kind to him.” He agreed.
“We never did anything he didn’t do to us first.” She said, “He tormented Cam every day for years and years until he snapped. But we must have loved him. Otherwise, why would it hurt so much?”
“I’ve thought the same thing myself.”
“Do you still love Rob?” He thought for a while, looping a strand of Elle’s wet hair around his finger three times as he did so. Something Cam used to do when they were watching television together, legs stacked and enjoying being near one another. Something Riley does, when they watch the news together.
“Yes.” He replied simply. “He’s still my son.”
“He won’t get better though, will he?”
“I doubt it.” The surf rolls in front of them, sand sticks on Elle’s pants in gritty clumps and salt clings to her skin. Rob was going to be Rob for the rest of his life. He was never going to be the brother from her teenage years again, never going to do the fun things they did to one another or be there for her family events. He’s going to be in jail. It’s a tragedy for her because she’s the one missing out on a brother because of his choices. It’s sad, deeply bone cuttingly sad. “Listen to me, Elle. You are not to blame for Rob’s choices. I have never blamed you, your mother doesn’t blame you, no one does.”
“I blame me.”
“If there is anything that you need forgiving for, then I have.” Dad paused, “But you weren’t Rob’s target, I hate to call you this but you really were collateral damage to him. I don’t think there’s a damn thing that you or anyone else could have done to change the ending to this story. If you did something differently, then who’s to say that Gail and I wouldn’t have lost you too? I wouldn’t have survived, not without you.”
“I think that if it wasn’t you then it would have been someone else.” She murmured, “Probably Cam. I don’t know why he hated Cam so much, he never did anything to anyone.”
“Robert’s sickness does not discriminate. Cam and I were easy targets.”
“Cam loved you. You know he did, right?”
“I assumed as much.”
“Do you...Have many memories of him?” She asked, finally sitting up a bit, wiping her face on her gritty arm and managing to only get a little in her eyes.
“Sometimes I’m sure I remember things, but other times I think I just remember things I’d like to have said to him. But the feeling...I know I love him. I know I loved him then, too. That’s what came back to me first, my feelings. I can’t explain it but one day, I woke up, looked at you and just knew that you were mine. Then I started feeling that when I caught glimpses of Cam and Rob in pictures. That’s what I think the most important thing was to recover.”
“Do you remember his god awful sense of humour?”
“How about his terrible fashion sense. Remember that white button-down with blue flowers he used to wear?”
“Hey, he loved that shirt. But it was truly hideous. He was very good about letting me dress him up for his dates, though. Like my very own real-life Ken Doll.”
“He was a very patient boy.” Dad agreed, “But he had the good old Robinson competitive streak in him. At Scarlet Bar, he challenged me to see who could win this girl I was talking to, Stacey or Lacey or something. Proud Dad moment.”
“I can imagine it!” She chuckled, “He could charm the pants off just about anyone. He used to get us out of all kinds of trouble. One night, we were at this bar and we weren’t...Quite eighteen yet and our fake IDs got busted. Somehow, he sweet-talked the owner of the place out of calling the cops, and then Mum out of punishing us when she caught us sneaking in through our bedroom window.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sweet talk your mother into anything.”
“No, me neither.” She grumbled, ruefully.
“He was a very talented young artist.” Dad is looking up into the sky, which is darker than ever before. “I like to think he got that from your Great Gran.”
“Well, we didn’t get it from Mum’s side of the family.” She thought aloud, “When he got drawing, he could do it for hours at a time. He didn’t like to stop, said he lost his train of thought.”
“Gran was a bit like that too. It was good to see her living legacy. His designs…” Dad pauses, “I’ve seen enough proposals over the years to know that they were good. Really good.”
“He loved buildings. That book you sent him when we turned ten, he used to highlight the parts he liked best, and he had a map of the ones he wanted to visit when he grew up.”
“I’m glad he liked it.”
“He loved it. But I think, mostly, he loved it because it came from you. You knew us, you loved us, even if you weren’t there. You know what his last words were? To me?” He shook his head no, tears welling up silent and unspoken of. “Take care of Dad. He was so worried about you...I think he must have known he wasn’t going to be with us much longer.”
“I thought he was going to live.”
“Why did anything else bear thinking about?”
“I know people thought it was weird. You bringing in a television, and food from Lassiters and having the house measured to be more...Wheelchair accessible. But, you weren’t being weird, you were planning our future. The three of us, our perfect little family. If Cam could have been saved on belief alone, you’d have cured him.”
“I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t do nothing.”
“Does it still hurt?”
“Sometimes, when I think too long about all the things he’s missed, or...That he was in pain. I do my best to think instead on the happy memories I do have. Teaching him how to handball when you were little, the three of us watching home movies or when he showed me the new facade he’d designed for Lassiters. It doesn’t hurt, not as much. It’s...It’s a warm sort of feeling. Grateful, I suppose to have had the time we did have with him. Sometimes I wonder about what the right amount of grief to feel for him is. I only knew Cam, the real Cam, for a couple of weeks. I mean - obviously, I knew him his whole life but...Only for those couple of weeks was I really there. Am I entitled to grief? How much grief does the man who struggles to remember his son deserve?”
“Did you love him for the whole nineteen years?”
“Of course I did.”
“Then you’re entitled to all the grief in the world.”
“It means a lot to hear you say that.” He says, pulling what Elle has come to refer to as his ‘frog face’. His lips pull back into a tight line, his eyes go wide and upwards. His voice gets croaky. It’s the face he makes when he wants to cry but is trying desperately not to. She leaned over to wrap her arms around his chest again.
“You don’t need to put on a brave face for me.” He placed his face on the top of her head, where her hair was stuck down to her head. He sniffled slightly, as he held on as much for him as for her.
“I wanted to be a good father to you, all of you.”
“I know you did.”
“I’m supposed to have a set of triplets.” He sniffed again, the bone of his chin firm against her head but not painful.
“I loved him so much that I was scared of it. What was a person meant to do with all that love? I’d already reached my capacity with you.”
“You couldn’t help but love him. No one ever could.”
“I should have been with him. I couldn’t make it better, I couldn’t take his pain away but I could have been with him.”
“He wanted you to go to that appointment, Dad. That was all he wanted, for you to be well again.” Tears start again, hot and sticky and clinging to Elle’s eyelashes. She tries to stifle her sobs, and it makes her chest seize, her heart a hummingbird trying to break free.
“I still have no idea what to do with all that love, I can’t give it to anyone else, it’s not theirs. It’s his. I should be giving it to him.”
“I miss him so badly,” Elle whispered.
“Me too,” Dad whispered back, the hummingbird in his chest fluttering violently against his ribs as he struggled not to cry. He put up an admirable fight for a long set of minutes before giving in, his cheek pressed tight against the top of her head, his arms tight around her. She didn't say a thing, until the water finally reached them, lapping gently against her feet. Dad had stopped crying some time ago but remained in the same position and Elle would do anything to know what exactly he was thinking right now. Her mind is full up with thoughts of Cam, and Dad, and the feeling of her ears popping as the plane went down over the ocean. It’s spilling over, thinking about her father crying about his deceased son, and the musty smell of her childhood bedroom last time she went to see Mum and the lecture she got from her for covering Rob’s face in all her photos of him with masking tape. She doesn’t cry. She’s cried enough times in the last fifteen years to fill the ocean twice over.
“I’m sick of being sad when I think about him.”
“I wish I had happier memories of him to dwell on,” Dad says, releasing her so he can stop his leg floating away. She split apart from him and then looked out at the water. Her shirt is nowhere to be seen, so she’s stuck in her singlet and pants. Drawing up her knees, she looked up at the half-moon, unsure if it is waxing or waning. Perhaps noticing now her state of semi-undress he grabs his jacket and put it over her shoulders. “Here.”
“Oh, I grabbed this too. I didn’t see where the earrings or your ring went, hope they weren’t important.” Elle accepted the bracelet from his hand and stared at it. A long, silver chain, very of the time. Chunky statement clasp. - the one that Dad had gotten for her on their first Christmas together.
“I’m glad you saved this.” She remarked, “I’d be heartbroken if it got lost.”
“Gift from someone special...Like Riley?” She notes that the clasp has broken, and rubs it between her fingers.
“You don’t remember?”
“No? I’ve never seen it before.” And for a split second, she wants to cry again, because this is going to be the rest of their life. She will have all these memories, time spent with him that he doesn’t even know that he’s missing. But she pulled it together like she always does.
“It was from you.”
“Our first Christmas together, in 2005. Izzy was wearing that god awful red Santa outfit, and you put too many lights on the tree and blew out the power for the whole street and then you had to host everyone in the community centre.”
“Hmph. Sounds like something I’d do.” He smiled, “Tell me, what did my favourite youngest daughter get dear old daddy for Christmas?”
“A framed photo of you, Izzy and I.”
“Oh, I remember that. I found it in a box after you moved out, had the weirdest feeling of being strangled.”
“Huh. Maybe you’re reminded of Izzy suffocating you with her...Shall we call it affections?”
“See, that’s what I love about you. Able to still hold a grudge even after all these years.”
“Well, if she wanted me to like her then she shouldn’t have slept with my boyfriend.” Dad laughs, and she stuffs the bracelet into his coat pocket.
“Let’s get going.” He says, “Before we’re swept halfway to New Zealand.”